- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 25, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Spc. Colby Buzzell’s squad was on a mission in a poor neighborhood in Mosul when two Iraqi boys ran up carrying old artillery shells. “Give me dollar!” they said.

Another came carrying bullets and demanding money.

“Then, all of a sudden, this really skinny Iraqi kid comes running up to us with a … HAND GRENADE in his hand,” Spc. Buzzell wrote on his war blog. “‘Drop the … hand grenade! Drop it now!’ We all started yelling. The little kid, still with this proud smile on his face that said, ‘Look what I just found,’ just dropped the grenade on the ground and walked over to my squad leader and said, ‘Give me money!’”

The grenade didn’t go off.

The squad leader explained to his men that an Army division that had been in the area earlier had paid children for weapons or unexploded ordnance.

For Spc. Buzzell, it was grist for his online war diary, https://cbftw.blogspot.com, whose fans range from soccer moms and truck drivers to punk band leader Jello Biafra. Before the counter dropped off the site, he said he was getting 5,000 hits a day.

Iraq war blogs are as varied as the soldiers who write them. Some sites feature practical news, pictures and advice. Some are overtly political, with more slanting to the right than the left. Some question the war, some cheer it.

Spc. Buzzell and a handful of others write unvarnished war reporting. A few of these blogs have been shut down, and Spc. Buzzell, an infantryman in an Army Stryker brigade, says he was banned from missions for five days because of the blog and has stopped adding new narrative entries.

For the folks back home, soldier blogs offer details of war that don’t make it into most news dispatches: The smell of rotten milk lingering in a poor neighborhood. The shepherd boys standing at the foot of a guard tower yelling requests for toothbrushes and sweets. The giant camel spiders. The tedium of long walks to get anything from a shower to a meal. Smoke from a burning oil refinery a hundred miles away blocking the sun. A terrifying night raid surprised by armed enemies dressed in black.

On the blogs, soldiers complain, commiserate and celebrate their victories and ingenuity.

What do you do if the electricity goes out while you’re sitting in the latrine, leaving you in complete darkness with a dead flashlight? Blog answer: Reach into your cargo pocket and crack open a Chemlight.

The blogs offer more than war stories. They offer images from Iraq not seen elsewhere, such as a sign in an office with no air conditioning: “We’re in the desert. The desert is hot. Now quit your whining.”

Sean Dustman, a 32-year-old Navy corpsman from Prescott, Ariz., started writing his blog, https://docinthebox.blogspot.com, after reading other war blogs.

“I was entranced with their stories,” he said after recently returning from six months in Iraq. “This was where the real news that mattered to me was coming from, unlike what you saw through the regular media. Reading them [the blogs] helped me and my Marines prepare for the trip.”

He started a photo blog, where he’d post pictures of his unit. Relatives visited religiously — and let him know with instant feedback when he wasn’t getting new pictures up fast enough.

Other bloggers encouraged him to write more than photo captions, so he did.

The Pentagon has “no specific guidelines on blogging, per se,” said Cheryl Irwin, a Defense Department spokeswoman.

“Generally, they can do it if they are writing their blogs not on government time and not on a government computer. They have every right under the First Amendment to say [anything] they want to say unless they reveal classified information, and then it becomes an issue as a security violation.”

Said the corpsman blogger: “Most people do have their minds made up about the war, but bloggers let them know that we’re human too, just like them. We’re the best way for the public to take a pulse on how we’re handing the situation.”

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